Wednesday, August 31, 2011

josé's band(s) of the week: sarabante / balaclava / bacchus

It's tough to pinpoint exactly what sets off a trend, or a musical movement, to put a less negative spin on it. There's usually a fairly clear catalyst (Municipal Waste -> new thrash wave, kindathing), but the twisted and unpredictable motions of bands, artists, genres and record labels are never quite clear. Which is great. Not all sudden avalanches of more or less similar bands are a band thing. Sure, personally I feel maybe we didn't need nu-metal in general as much as a scrotum rash, but an army of cap-wearing youths with opinions as valid as mine would surely disagree with me. Right now, I'm a fucking bandwagon-jumper myself and I unashamedly ride on almost every one the underground has to offer. I find it great that tons of bands are doing creepy 70s style occult rock, that tons of others are finally bringing the Incantation filth back into death metal, and that Southern Lord are signing everyone who at last realized Trap Them are one of the most awesome bands ever.

It's this last bit that is of most interest this week. I've done two bands of the week before, but having three is a first for me, which just goes to show how strong this movement is. We might not be sure what to call it yet - browsing tags for these bands offers "dark hardcore" or "neocrust" (as long as it's not just crust, because it isn't, okay?) are sort of in the ballpark, while "angry ass people", "entombedcore" or "omfg so heavy" are much cooler but probably wouldn't fly as terms to use in serious magazines. Screw it, the long way home is neither serious or a magazine, so. It's at times like these I regret metalcore was turned into a dirty word, because it would really suit what these people are doing. And by these people, I mean not only these three bands, but also Trap Them, of course, whom I see as the main catalyst for all this, Unkind, Okkultokrati, Nails, Black Breath, The Secret, All Pigs Must Die, Young And In The Way, Oathbreaker, Early Graves, Summon The Crows and a lot more. Hell, Victims, even, even if they veer more into the NWOSDM/d-beat mixture. Before we get into these three bands properly, two notes: a) count how many of those are or have been in Southern Lord's roster and b) notice how they're not only all fucking amazing bands, but also relatively small bands who operate a lot within a DIY spirit. That's the most wonderful thing about this little trend so far. I'm sure we'll all get sick of this stuff in a couple of years,  but so far it has offered nothing but great music played by great people, straight from their guts.

from Athens, Greece

Sarabante are the first on the table, further illustrating not only the Southern Lord influence, with whom they signed recently, but also how far-reaching this black cloud is getting, as these five dudes hail from Greece. There's little Mediterranean about them or their debut 'Remnants', where they storm their way through eleven angst-ridden short blasts, the result a darkened tornado full of delightful debris like d-beat rhythms, Tragedy-like urgency and pitch-black gloom. There's even some hummable melody, which you will enjoy for a couple of seconds before a relentless beat washes it all away, like on the beginning of the title track. The last song is called 'Do You Feel Safe', and you won't, not for a second, while Sarabante drop their colossal dose of darkness upon you.

from Richmond, VA

facebook - myspace - bigcartel (buy stuff!)

Guess what label Balaclava are on? That's right, those people again. More of a brute force sort of bunch than Sarabante, with less d-beatisms going on and with the face-peeling vocals in particular closer to the more traditional hardcore approach, they nevertheless achieve more or less the same objective as their Greek label-mates do, which is to smash your skull in with a relentless chug along of brutality. It's tough-guy music, but it's not dumb-guy music. Although most of the songs in their new 'Crimes Of Faith' album do feel simple, a few repeated listens will easily show how calculated a lot of the punches are. Balaclava might be the musical equivalent of a fucking scary huge boxer, but he's also a seasoned and philosophical-in-his-angst one. On their facebook, their influences section reads "Neurosis, His Hero Is Gone, etc...", which shows the spectrum of good taste that is behind this. They also specify there that they're named "after the ski mask preferred by guerrilla militias, not pastries," which is nice to know.

Oh, and while digging around for a bit of info on the band I came across this, on the Was Ist Das website, which is cooler than anything I might have written. Now I wish I would have started a handwritten blog.

from Galway, Ireland

Because there's life outside Southern Lord, but also already outside the more conventional acts of the angry ass people genre, Bacchus needed to be mentioned as well. Hell, one look at those t-shirts and that stack of Orange amps would be enough to know they're people of good taste, but still. They're probably the least known act of these three for now, but their potential is huge, even as a band who will outgrow any genre tags. Offering a similar ferocity as the above mentioned on their self-titled debut LP, they also make justice to that delightuflly creepy album cover by going unpleasant on us with streaks of mean-ass sludge and nightmarish, psychedelic atmospheres gone all wrong. The opening song is called 'Devoted To Shit', which should give you an idea of how far from a party record this is. A glance at their facebook reveals a UK/Euro tour to come in January 2012, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Don't miss this mudslide of putrid aggression if they're in town.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

30 day song challenge - day 11 - a song from your favourite band

Day 11 - A song from your favourite band
Neurosis - Through Silver In Blood

Remember the 30 day song challenge? I didn't, but I just realized I still have 20 days to go, so here we are again. This one is relatively straightforward, or would be if I had one single, well-defined favourite band. Swans could easily be here as well, but this song is my favourite song off my favourite album ever, and on top of it I was there when this video was filmed. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the soundtrack to the final judgement.

Friday, August 26, 2011

We might not have seen it coming, we might have not have thought of it for a second on our wildly incomplete 2011 predictions, at least those of us who indulged into that sort of geekery. We might have even thought "yeah, another lame black metal band. Weren't there some rather corny Swedes with this name too?" when they got the promo, before a)reading the press release to see who the musicians involved were, b)listening to it and c)noticing it's not Wisdom, it's VVisdom. Okay, that was just me, probably, and I will suffer 1.000 days of sodom for that (see below). But regardless of our ignorance, Ancient VVisdom's debut, 'A Godlike Inferno', will surely feature among many a best of 2011 list. Mostly acoustic, dark, and very, very serious, it's one of the most surprisingly affecting albums of the year and you will book your first class ticket to hell just by looking at it. I've been so impressed with it that I've stalked the great Nathan Opposition until he got into the 10 rounds with me. Be afraid.

1. When you founded Ancient VVisdom you were still in Integrity, have the band’s aims and objectives changed much since you and Michael left Integrity and it became your only musical focus?
Same objective: creating to destroy, destroying to create.

2. Has the foundation of the band’s sound always been the acoustic instrumentation?
The acoustic instrumentation has been with us from the beginning. It adds depth to the nature of our songs.

3. I’m sure a lot of people will spell the band’s name with a W, just like that old Swedish black metal band. So, what’s the deal with the double V, and what punishment do you suggest for those who misspell it?
Instant intense corrective rehabilitation for those who spell our name with a "W", a penalty of 1.000 days of sodom. The name is pronounced Lncient VVisdom. VVe are a product of a pre-christian pagan culture.

4. Unlike many noisy bands, with AVV it’s clear to everyone what you’re singing, so do you take extra care with the quality of your lyric writing because of that?
My lyrics are well thought out hymns, ever word is selected for a specific reason.

5. The lyrics on the song The Opposition, in particular, seem very personal, especially considering you have taken Opposition as your last name. Do you actually sing praises to Lucifer, and do they take away your suffering?
Every "Live Ritual" vve sing praises to Lucifer. The Opposition is everything I am. Every generation needs a catalyst for change. I am willing to say what they won't say, and do what they won't do.
[one of those live rituals below. Be very afraid.]

6. Machete percussion is probably the coolest instrumentation a band has ever used. Will you keep innovating in terms of instrumentation for future releases?
I want to introduce a new percussive sound on each new album, certain songs have specific percussive sounds. I have been throwing some ideas around for the next one that will top that!

7. How prolific a songwriter are you? Do you think the forthcoming AVV albums will follow roughly the same direction as this one?
Next AVV album is already in the works! VVe have a lot of interesting songs and titles that vve will be introducing when the time is right, with the same AVV vibe and then some. New sounds, new psalms of praise to the war of hell in every human mind. It will follow accordingly to our first full length 'A Godlike Inferno' since vve have plans on taking it to the same studio, The Bubble, in Austin.

8. AVV seem really tight on a live setting and the songs are faithfully reproduced. You seem pretty fired up too. Have people reacted well to your performances?
First of all thank you very very much. Our shows thus far have been great! One of my favorite live rituals that vve have done was recently with Dax Riggs. VVe have played a lot of great shows, or as I call them Live Rituals. Pentagram, Eyehategod, two great fuckin' bands for SXSW. VVe did a show with Scott VVino and Scott Kelly when they did an acoustic tour, two great fuckin' musicians as well.
[All hail.]

9. Dude, an EP with Charles Manson. What's your take on Manson, do you think it’s unfair that his songs will never be looked upon for what they are, outside the context of his life?
There will be a few people who understand the circumstances of his very complicated life and that can see past the media's vision of who Charles Manson is. I see him as a misunderstood public figure of sorts. I also see him as a musician/artist who has a right to have a voice just like anyone else.

10. Last question is list question - if you had to choose the five bands/artists most important in the shaping of Ancient VVisdom’s sound, what would they be? 
Ohhh! Tough one!

Death in June
David Bowie
Roky Erickson

Hail all these artists now.
[Again, all hail.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

josé's band of the week: ash borer

from Arcata, California, USA.

myspace - blogspot - facebook (fan page only)

Ash Borer first got into my radar when I picked up their imaginatively titled tape demo from 2009, '2009 Demo', which contained just a pair of tracks but managed to get past the limitations of the format and the non-existence of a deeply evocative concept and get into my daily rotation for quite a while back there. Could well be called 'Fart Candy' or 'Sewage Elephant' for all I care, when a song like the fourteen minute long 'Drukne' is enough to kidnap my consciousness from whatever crap it's occupied with and launch it into deep, dark, fathmoless space for the duration. On top of it I was bummed out with Wolves In The Throne Room's less than stellar 'Black Cascade' (which has since grown on me a little bit more, though) and I needed me some atmospheric mystical black metal from the West Coast to fill my life. You should all know by now how much of a sucker for this kind of thing I am - which doesn't mean I'm not picky. That's why I kept Ash Borer as a very vivid spot on that radar of mine.

Thing is, my radar gets distracted sometimes. So I kept up with Ash Borer as they put out a split with Fell Voices shortly after, but somehow failed to notice that they released a proper album (self-titled) earlier this year. It was only, ironically enough, when I saw a mention of it on a review of the fantastic new Wolves In The Throne Room album, that I was aware of it. Having duly acquired the precious item, its mere three songs, small in number but near infinite in length (40 minutes, okay? But it feels like 40000, and in a good way), have been in constant demand by my ears, frantically trying to make up for lost time. By the way, do you know what an ash borer is?

Says here it's "an invasive species, highly destructive to ash trees," and that "since its accidental introduction into the United States and Canada in the 1990s (...) it has killed at least 50 - 100 million ash trees so far and threatens to kill most of the 7.5 billion ash trees throughout North America." So yes, it's a nasty motherfucker. Now then, imagine that it came from deep space, where a curse of old has caused the time-space continuum to rip apart and allowed this monstrosity to squeeze through whatever distorted dimension it was living in, picture it ten times its size, and replace "ash trees" with "human beings" in that description, and you kinda have an idea of what Ash Borer, the band, sound like.

Sure, there's tons of dark atmospheres and creepy ambient parts throughout the slowly but surely expanding universes that are their songs, but within the turmoil of several shades of black metal crashing against ugly doom and head-spinning psychedelia there is always an aura of malice and discomfort that will keep you gripped to your seat, or bed, or bathtub, or wherever it is you listen to weird mindfuck music like this. Forget that there's a 20 minute song, or that people will use the word "cascadian" to describe it or that even I managed to drop Wolves In The Throne Room a bunch of times into this post (when they actually remind me much more of the equally awesome Ensorcelor). Ash Borer are way above any silly preconceptions or comparisons, crossing genres and limitations at will with deep, lasting effect, so I suggest you pay them some attention. Start by purchasing delightful items.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I'm most likely forgetting a whole bunch of nutcases, but you'll surely remind me. Top 10 wonderfully disturbing voices:

01. Alan Dubin (OLD / Khanate / Gnaw)
02. Nathan Misterek (Graves At Sea / Laudanum)
03. Diamanda Galás
04. Attila Csihar (Mayhem / Sunn O))) / Tormentor / etc)
05. Rainer Landfermann (Bethlehem)
06. Blixa Bargeld (Einstürzende Neubauten)
07. Tim Singer (Kiss It Goodbye / Deadguy / Family Man)
08. Lord Worm (Cryptopsy)
09. Johnny Morrow (Iron Monkey)
10. Steve Austin (Today Is The Day)

Friday, August 19, 2011

to forever hold your peace.

I'm 33 years old. Not too young, not too old. A fair bit of experience, especially in what I consider to be my areas of expertise. Or, the things in which I suck less. Anyway, I've started going to shows roughly 20 years ago, and it's an addiction that has just gotten worse, and turned more or less into a job halfway through. I've seen hundreds of different bands and artists performing live. From quiet singer/songwriters to classical pianists to brutal death metal quintets. From crowds of 3 to crowds of 100.000, in more than 15 different countries. During concerts, I've been sober, drunk, I've stagedived, moshed, stood quietly at the back, taken thousands of photos, occasionally even took the mic myself. I've written about a large percentage of those bands, I've met another large percentage of those musicians, I've hung around in backstages as big as my house and as small as my cupboard. So, do forgive the presumption, but I think I'm in a position to give some good advice to musicians just embarking on the great adventure that is performing their music up on a stage for other people. I was just thinking about this today, if I had to summarize everything I've learned into the most important and simple piece of advice, what would it be? It's easy:


Allow me to explain. There are of course a few notable exceptions to this rule. But unless you're Mikael Åkerfeldt (hi Mikael, thanks for reading!) with your genuinely funny between-song chit-chat or Pete Steele (hi Pete, so you did fake it and move to Hungary?) with your brilliant bone-dry deadpan humour or a couple of other illuminati, you do not need to keep talking to your audience every time a song ends. Of course, you can be polite, say good night, thank the crowd after your performance is over, make an appropriate comment or two. If you must. But there's no mandatory need. Let's examine all the situations to effectively prove this. I hope this is useful to your future career.


- You're not as funny as you think you are.
You're not with your mates, even if a few of them are in the audience. You're in front of a bunch of people who, at best, have seen your face on the back of a CD. Or, if you're not headlining, probably not even that. Even people who do comedy professionally sometimes have trouble with audiences who are there expecting a laugh, so your chances of success aren't huge. If you're a very well known musician, and if you're really as funny as you think you are, people still came here to hear you play, not do stand-up. I'd go see Lewis Black if I wanted that, not you. The occasional quip is of course okay, but don't feel like you have to over-entertain.

- No English at all is better than broken English.
If you're playing abroad, don't feel forced to speak in a language that you're not good at. Especially within the world of extreme music, where the atmosphere of a concert takes an importance that isn't usual in other musical universes. We, the audience, most of it anyway, don't take ourselves so seriously as to want to feel like we're the evilest bunch in the world when listening to a black metal band, for instance, but there is a suspension of disbelief during the performance that a band of that sort should know how to balance. And nothing ruins it more than a poorly placed "zat vaas broooo-tahl, moo-tha-fockrz!". Another nasty effect of your poor command of the language is that it will eventually lead to...

- The easy way out: swearing.
Yes, saying "fuck" a lot will pump up all the 14-year-olds in the audience, both in age and in mentality, who actually enjoy being called "motherfuckers", but is that really how you want to dumb down your performance? The very worst example of this I've witnessed has been during a Fleshgod Apocalypse show. If you don't know them, check them out - they're an amazingly brutal death metal band from Italy, who write kickass songs despite their dazzling technical skill, deftly avoiding fretboard masturbation syndrome. They also add an extra dose of grandiosity by adding a few bombastic classical music interludes in between songs (they claim their music is heavily influenced by classical). When I first saw them live, they fortunately had those interludes playing in between the songs. However, the vocalist decided to ruin it by shouting "come on, motherfuckers!" and other such thick-accented banalities. All over Beethoven's 6th.

- We know who you are, where you're from and where the merch stall is. Thank you.
We've all seen the posters for the show, that's why we purchased a ticket and showed up. There's probably a banner with the name of your band behind you. Even if we don't know, if we think you're show was amazing, we'll find out quickly. And while it is no doubt way cool to be from Malta, or Peru, or Tennessee, it's probably not incredibly relevant to the songs you're about to play. Worst of all, we've been to shows before. We know how they work. Bands have things up for sale. T-shirts, records, patches, thongs for our girlfriends to look extra sexy with some indecipherable logo on it. The stall is back there. We've passed it on our way in. You'd like to sell stuff, yes, that's understandable. But we've purchased things before, we also know how to do it. We'll do it if we think your super cool. You don't need to remind us every two songs. Also - we're having a good time. Thanks for caring. But every time you ask if we are so that we can eloquently reply "yeaaaaaaah" in unison, it becomes a bit less good.

- You don't need to thank us after every single song.
"Thank you!" isn't part of the original lyrics of the song, so you can stop saying it right before the last notes are played. It's okay if you thank us in the end, we'll get that you mean the whole show.

- If you must tell us the name of the song, make it understandable. And think hard before explaining its meaning.
If you're Jello Biafra (hi Jello, thanks for reading!), you're allowed to go on about the socio-political ramifications of what you're about to sing. If you're not, and if you really have to, please keep the explanation under 20 seconds, okay? And death and black metal people: when you tell us the name of this next song (again, if you feel you really have to), please, please, please do not cookie-monster-growl it or evil-demon-shriek it. It's ridiculous, it's silly and it defeats the entire purpose of doing it if 'Hellspawn Of The Burning Pentagram' becomes 'HOOOORGH OOOH EEH POOOHGROOOH'.

- We will get to the front if your music is awesome enough for us to bother.
So stop asking us. Stop asking us to jump, or to scream, or to do stuff we don't really feel like. We would be doing it if your music inspired and encouraged us to do it. Sure, organize a wall of death or whatever if the audience has been showing excitement (and not if two guys have been digging it so far, in which case your wall of death will consist of two people bumping into each other), but stop forcing us to pretend we're enjoying something to an extent that we're not.

- Be honest. We know you're not the best crowd of your life, and we also know you made fun of us when you were playing in our rival country.
We can tell, okay? And even if we can't, there's YouTube now. We'll watch you tomorrow, on your next date, in the country/state next to ours, telling them how they've been the greatest crowd you've ever seen, and how they're so much louder than us pussies, just like you're doing now with your previous date. So don't. Honesty also applies to how you talk about other bands. Don't say the local support band that has been with you for four shows now is great if you won't be able to recognize their album if it's played to you. I've seen Nergal thank their "great friends, Suffocation!" who played just before, when it had been Decapitated. Avoid that.

- Neurosis.
This band, one of the most important and influential in the history of extreme music, has provided me with the most intense, mesmerizing and downright life-changing concerts I have ever attended. I have never heard a single word being spoken to the audience by any of their six members. Take a hint.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

from São Paulo, Brazil

website - facebook - myspace - bandcamp

Remember when a Brazilian post-metal band called Black Sea was band of the week? Back then I said "I've even got a couple of widely unknown bands from there of that ilk on the pipeline for future features," and one of those were actually Sobre A Máquina. The label on which Black Sea released their EP is called sinewave and it's pretty cool, they make available on their website, for free, a lot of releases from up and coming experimental bands mostly, and it's really worth it to take a look around, as you'll surely find something very interesting.

The band that most stood out for me at that time was this trio. Not only their artwork is of wonderfully good taste, but their first record called 'Decompor' was described as featuring "influences of bands tagged as: Drone Doom, Early Industrial, Post-Industrial, Dark Ambient and Post-Rock," so I naturally had to take a peek. Of course that's a bit exaggerated, and fortunately so - for a band to incorporate all that in full force, it'd have to be a fuckin' incomprehensible wall of sound. The vibe I got from Sobre A Máquina was mostly one of chill out. You know, not what is usually understood as chill out when it comes to music. No lounge chairs, people by the pool or elevator music where meaningless beats and dumbed down harmless easy-jazz pass as entertainment while people sip on drinks with umbrellas in them. Chill out as in music that really loosens your thoughts after all those sessions of mindfuck black metal weirdness or hideously deformed nihilistic sludge. The main difference between this and other kinds of chill out music is that I actually enjoyed this one.

You see, there's an important difference of chill outs, and it resides in that Sobre A Máquina don't do easy or simple music. It's relaxing but it's also challenging and forward-thinking and interesting. I waited until now to feature them because I needed confirmation that that first release wasn't just a fluke, not just some electronics beginner that hit the nail by chance, so now with a new record called 'Areia' (it means "sand", in case you're wondering) they've gone and totally proved their worth, dispelling any doubts I might have had.

Don't get all hung up on the fact that I find this relaxing, okay? You might not, and this is not easy-listening in any case. Their trippy use of electronics is actually pretty dynamic and varied. There's brush strokes of early industrial (just like that description said, see?) such as SPK and Throbbing Gristle on the harsher parts, a fat-ass bassline on the first song 'Língua Negra' ("black tongue" - that doesn't sound relaxing, does it?), brightly shoegazy Jesu-ish atmospheres at odds with the jarring noises that go on at the same time, some chanting buried among the beats on 'Foz' as the only non-totally instrumental segment, and a genuinely unsettling mood that rears its head on the last song 'Garça'. The mazey sound structures recall jazz above all genres, cut-up, electronically processed, 22nd century jazz, but jazz nonetheless. As much as I liked 'Decompor', I'm glad I waited a while. It's so much easier to recommend Sobre A Máquina with a huge upgrade like 'Areia'. They're both available for free, so there's no excuse to not check these guys out. While you're at it, check out the rest of sinewave too, and report back to me with your best findings. Get on with it.

Free coolness:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

caïna - hands that pluck

Hands That Pluck
2011 / Profound Lore

No, not road therapy, just a regular bit of writing about an album I've been spinning quite a bit recently. I've had it in my car when I first received it, but it's just not appropriate. Too immersing, too jarring too, for a continued listening while driving. Had I not decided to listen to it elsewhere, you might have read in the news about a dramatic pile up in the Lisboa area caused by a driver who suddenly forgot he was in the middle of traffic due to the black abyss of dying stars he hallucinated during his journey, or a car that veered off the bridge onto the sea, too consumed by the cosmic infinity in his mind's eye to keep a straight line.

Be forewarned - 'Hands That Pluck' demands a few things, so make sure you check all the boxes before you dive in. Headphones. Patience. A few late nights. Mental disposition for music that doesn't sit still and that won't fit any of your established notions about any genre that it touches, and that's a whole bunch. That sort of thing. The music of Andy Curtis-Brignell through the Caïna entity has never been easy, so it's not a huge surprise this album is complex to tackle. If you listen to the full-lengths in succession, 2006's embryonic 'Some People Fall', 2007's breakthrough, funereal 'Mourner' and 2008's kaleidoscopic 'Temporary Antennae', it does feel like the genetically altered caterpillar turning into a beautifully grotesque butterfly, such is the widening of scope and breadth that occurs from album to album. But this is the biggest leap so far. Maybe because it is, tragically, the very last release of Caïna, maybe also encouraged by the fact that, as Andy revealed to me a few months ago on a little interview for Terrorizer magazine, a technical problem cost him all the lyrics and music he already had written for this album at the time, but the result is staggeringly opaque.

The first listen of this album feels like someone put in a mixtape by mistake. Although vaguely rooted within black metal, as usual, it's still a genre rollercoaster that seems to zoom off to randomly distant parts of the extreme music universe at will, a feeling augmented by the presence of several illustrious guests - the unique talents of N. Imperial of Krieg, Chris Ross of Revenge and Rennie Resmini of Starkweather all chip in to ensure the passage of Caïna to the afterlife of awesome bands is one to remember. And it is. After those traumatic first listens, the initially ever-expanding 'Hands That Pluck' universe seems to contract (especially if you didn't forget your headphones), and the missing dots magically appear one by one for you to connect. It still is wildly diverse, but the seven songs and two creepy interludes turn into stars of the same constellation - millions of miles away from each other, yet irrevocably connected.

Just as the subject matter is more abstract than usual, Andy's habitual Crowleyism, Satanism and critique of theistic religion getting more ethereal in lyrics that are extremely evoking and warrant a read even without the music playing, the music itself is not easy to describe either, not without a lame track-by-track sort of thing, and even so that doesn't do it any justice. But what the hell, here goes:

It starts out pretty roughly, slapping you around with the Darkthrone-ish (circa 'The Cult Is Alive', on top of it) 'Profane Inheritors' and the ten minutes of the N. Imperial-led lo-fi black metal that turns into abstract stargazing halfway of 'Murrain'. A perfect opening pair to scare off eventual hipsters looking for the next metal band to appropriate. Yet, it does contain a glimpse of what's to come, as 'Murrain' does morph into an etheral stargazing session halfway through, punctuated by N. Imperial's gruff growls, like an alien chewing through your intestines while you stare at the Earth from space in eternal tranquillity. Or something. After the eerie speech of the title-track interlude, it's straight into 'The Sea Of Grief Has No Shores', a title that's the perfect representation of Curtis-Brignell's poetic lyricism that's been present throughout his Caïna career, and most touchingly so during this album, and a track that exhales a ghostly, skeletal post-rock ambiance, as if all members Mono had been possessed by Satan right before the recording of 'One More Step And You Die'. Just when it's lullabying you into oblivion, it's up to Rennie Resmini to shake you from your slumber with a typically disconcerting performance on 'Callus And Cicatrix'. The man has one of the most distinctive, versatile and downright soul-wrenching voices in the entire history of extreme music, and he elevates the labyrinthine necro-prog song into a haunting, poignant piece that serves as the record's pivotal point - from then on, it seems like 'Hands That Pluck' initiates a jagged build-up that lasts until the final climax. 'Somnium Ignis' fuses Andy's deep and animalistic roar and harsh atmosphere with surprisingly luminous guitar leads, while 'I Know Thee Of Old' employs Revenge's Chris Ross in an unimaginable context, a fuzzy rockout that builds and builds after a dreamy start. It's like letting loose an enraged bull in your little sister's room, except here it works against all notions of common sense. The last song, 'Ninety-Three', might just be the best thing Caïna has ever done, closing out a relatively short but incredibly creative career with a quiet explosion of trippy rock, 70s leads and psyched out moods, like opening a window after years of darkness.

The album comes with a bonus CD called 'Old Songs New Chords', featuring reworkings of old Caïna songs and a frankly spectacular cover of Nico's 'Roses In The Snow', but you don't need me to go into that. You'll do it yourself, as a sort of wake, after you have exhausted 'Hands That Pluck' and yourself, taken a very deep and very long breath, and realized that there will be no more light from where that now-dead star is. The last time I used a dead star as a metaphor was on my Terrorizer review of Horseback's equally transcendental 'The Invisible Mountain', so you know I save those for special occasions.

Do return to us eventually, Andy.

Monday, August 15, 2011

live shots: seven churches festival

A few shots from last June's first edition of the Seven Churches Festival, in London. The review was published on Terrorizer #212, and you can find the Undersmile photos from it on this past edition of Live Shots.


Rise Of The Simians



Black Sun

Friday, August 12, 2011

road therapy / ghost

Opus Eponymous
2010 / Rise Above

Not much road therapy lately, not because I haven't been driving, but because it's been mostly new, unreleased or just-released stuff bringing the noise to my car, like Today Is The Day, Ancient VVisdom, Wolves In The Throne Room or William Elliott Whitmore, and that's not much fun discussing here. Not only most of you are still unfamiliar with those records, but I've reviewed them for several magazines, so I feel like I've said my piece about them for now.

Anyway, Ghost. This one you'll all be familiar with, whether you like it nor not. Overhyped by many, subsequently detested by others, the impact it has had since its release is undeniable. My first reaction when I got the promo was to stay away from it, the instant impression I got was of a gimmicky bunch trying to get on the occult rock bandwagon by aping Mercyful Fate and suchlike. But I listened to it, eventually. I had to grudgingly admit I found a couple of songs quite fun. So I listened to it again. And that's how it gets you. You really can't help but feel its charm once the hooks comfortably sink into your brain. It's 'Ritual' and 'Elizabeth' that first get to you, but soon you start discovering all the delightful little touches in all the others and that's it, you're irretrievably lost to the Ghost cause.

Eventually, it gets too much, of course. It's only eight songs, and when you've listened to them eight million times each, you need a break, and I eventually left 'Opus Eponymous' aside for a few months. The definitive confirmation that it's indeed a great record, even with the benefit of hindsight, has come this year, in three parts. First, it was seeing them live at Roadburn and realizing they're an incredibly tight and powerful live band, always one of the best measures of credibility in my books. Then, upon arriving in Iceland, my buddy Gisli had the album playing in his car (some Icelandic road therapy there!) and I enjoyed it tremendously after not having listened to it for ages, Roadburn aside, and was surprised at how much I felt like listening to it again once I got home. And now, the final confirmation, bringing it to my car nearly a year later, After all the hype, all the magazine covers, after all the crazy guessing of who is in the band (everyone knows by now who the vocalist is, at least), it's the perfect time to re-evaluate it, and it still holds up remarkably well. Especially as a driving album - the best ones are usually the ones you can sing along to, and there's not better singalong album than this one, so it's been spinning tons again. Until I get sick of falsettoing hear our Satan praaaayer all over again, at least.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

from Tampere, Finland

website - facebook - myspace (unofficial fan page)

I'm a bit fat. Once upon a time, I was a proto-athlete, I competed in high-jump and long-jump events, but a few too many beers and steaks have taken their toll in the past decade and a half, and while I can probably still outjump you, I've been trying to get some exercise routine back. I'm too cheap to join a gym, so that means running, and fortunately I have a cool place to run a minute away from me, so I can do it in the middle of the grass and trees instead of that depressing car-dodging downtown city folk have to do if they want to go out for a jog. Being me, I run with headphones all the time, and I'm actually pretty straightforward about it, I don't need something with a beat to pump me up or whatever. I can pretty much run with Loss, Anaal Nathrakh or Ray LaMontagne and keep the same pace.

Today, however, Circle Of Ouroborus totally ruined my exercise. Thanks to the privilege that is having friends in spiritually high places, I had already heard the Finnish band's new album, 'Eleven Fingers', out now on Handmade Birds on vinyl format, a few times via streaming. I have a strange issue with streaming stuff though, despite being a computer person, there's a distance there that I can't seem to bridge between me and the music, whenever I listen to something that way. Last night, however, I was able to get my grubby mits on a digital version of the record, so I naturally saved it for my morning woods (ahem) run. Goddamn it. I kept stopping and having to sit down as the beast sunk in, blow after mortal blow on my ill-conceived notion of how extreme music should sound.

It's that drastic. I have naturally kept up with Circle Of Ouroborus' output throughout the last few years, first coming into contact with them after that split with Urfaust which preceded their debut, and they have never been a predictable band, very far from it. A few ups and downs with their proper albums released so far ('Shores', 'Tree Of Knowledge' and 'Unituli' are really the ones I keep listening to regularly) had them more tagged in my head as a sort of oddity. An oddity with a huge amount of potential, granted, but still. After this disturbing listen to 'Eleven Fingers', however, it's as if everything they've done has been wiped away, as mere stepping stones on the way up to the monument. I'm on my third paragraph without even trying to describe what it sounds like, and there's a reason. I really can't. Not while it's fucking with my head so deeply as it is now.

If you thought the post-something categories we've had to come up with in the last few years because we've ran out of names to call music were hard to stomach, then these people have just made everything worse by one extra degree of post. They've done post-punk and post-black metal and even post-shoegaze or post-neofolk before, and this is what comes after that. After the post. Is it going back to the beginning? Is it the Ouroborus of life itself eating the tail of music categorization? See what I mean about it fucking with my head?

Atonal guitars that sound little like what we expect a guitar to sound like at all, vocals that sound like they were recorded without ever listening to the music but which fit it with an eerie perfection, aggressive melody at war with mellow violence, I don't know. It's as much beaten and drugged Urfaust hanging by their balls as it is the exhumed corpse of Joy Division playing atmospheric Bone Awl covers in reverse with an undead priest howling the vocals from another room. The only clear picture I get from this is the face of all the kids who will eventually download this from some Russian website thinking it's yet another black metal album to file under everyday crap with all the others, and whose brain will melt after five minutes alone with it. Just like mine is, too.

Monday, August 8, 2011

josé's top 10s - motörhead albums

There was a discussion with a few of my fellow music writers this morning about the best Motörhead album of the last two decades (the majority of opinions converged towards '1916' and 'Inferno', and I heartily agree), so I mentally put together my top 10 Motörhead albums, ever. It's funny to note that, despite the fact that they have penned some of the best tunes in the history of mankind, that their live show is still today a fucking blast and that Lemmy is, obviously, the coolest person in the world, Motörhead have very rarely put together a 100% consistent album, devoid of any filler. Oh, and 'No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith' counts because it's the best live album ever, because it's the Motörhead album that I still spin the most and because it's my blog and I want it to, so there. Anyway, your list is surely different, so discuss, elaborate, insult and praise mine at will.

01. No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith (1981)
02. Ace Of Spades (1980)
03. Overkill (1979)
04. Inferno (2004)
05. Bomber (1979)
06. 1916 (1991)
07. On Parole (1979, sort of)
08. Sacrifice (1995)
09. Iron Fist (1982)
10. Overnight Sensation (1996)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Not that I bragged about it or anything, but I went to Iceland last month and the aftershock still resonates in me quite strongly, not only caused by the amazing scenery or the kickass bands I discovered, but also because of the unlikely amount of great new friends I've made there. No better excuse, then, to start showing them how annoying I can really be and subject one of them to the 10 rounds treatment. Gisli was the best host I could ever dream of during my stay in Neskaupstaður - he provided me with a very nice place to stay, free internet, drove me around to the sound of Ghost (and a few seconds of wimp-period Enslaved, quickly corrected), put up with my drunken ramblings to the wee hours of the morning, and topped it all off with an ear-splitting performance fronting his band, Beneath. If you don't know them, shame on you - they've played the ever-brutal Neurotic Deathfest for example, and they slay. Their debut full-length is about to come up, so keep your ears pricked for that one. Gisli was also a member of Sororicide, and if you don't know them, you can leave the hall.

1. You know how Decibel have an article called Justify Your Shitty Taste? Here’s your chance to justify yours – feel free to get off your chest everything that you really, really love about Morbid Angel’s new album. And what made you get the t-shirt on top of it.
Haha bastard! Alright, here goes. First of all I'm a huge fan of Morbid Angel with David Vincent so having him back was always going to be a big plus for me. And I have to say that his voice is great on the new album. So that's probably what I like most about it. Admittedly there are songs on the album that I would have preferred they released on an EP or something, but overall I would say it's a good album, if not great, and vastly superior to Heretic. As for the t-shirt, I saw them again at Hellfest this year and they were so good that I was compelled to buy a t-shirt. Also, I look great in a Morbid Angel t-shirt!
[That's reasonable. Here's an idea - any other freaks out there who like that album, do email me and I'll compile the best justifications on a future post. Neil, I might publish what you've told me about it, beware!]

2. As I have mentioned to my readers before, my mnemonic for remembering your name involved thinking of Gimli, just for the resemblance of the name. But if you had to be one Lord Of The Rings character, which one would you be?
Since Gimli is hands down the coolest character in the Lord Of The Rings and the one that I most resemble (short hairy dude!) I would pick him without any hesitation!

3. Alright, enough stupid questions. Introduce all these nice people reading to your current kickass band, Beneath, so that no one is left in painful ignorance.
I'm the vocalist in the Icelandic death metal band Beneath. We're a fairly new band, formed during the winter 2007/2008 and we currently have one release out, an EP called 'Hollow Empty Void' that was released by Mordbrann Musikk in 2010. [which he was kind enough to give to me, and it kills. Get it.] We play fast death metal that has been described as both technical and brutal, although I feel that neither tag fits us completely. We have our debut full length, 'Enslaved By Fear', coming out later this year on Unique Leader Records.

4. One of your guitar players actually bled all over his guitar onstage during Eistnaflug (evidence), which is very appropriate. Are you thinking of turning that into a habit?
That's an idea, it could be our gimmick! Although I'm not sure that Jóhann (our bleeding guitarist) would like the it very much.

5. You’ve told me recently only the artwork needed completion before Beneath unleash tha long awaited full length debut – what’s the feeling of finally having a proper album out, and how do you think it improves on the EP?
It's difficult to describe it. We've been waiting for the release for quite some time now, so it's a mixture of excitement and relief that the wait is almost over. And for me, the album is an improvement in all areas when compared to the EP. I think it's fair to say that it's broadening our sound a bit without changing the fact that we play fast death metal. And there is a slow song on it which is quite new for us as well. We play better on it and I feel that we've improved our songwriting. Sound wise it doesn't hurt at all that it's mixed by Daniel Bergstrand so it sounds better as well.

6. You’re not exactly a newcomer, and you’re an important musician in the Icelandic metal scene, so your expectations for Beneath’s future are probably very realistic – so, what are they? Do you think the band could turn into a well known entity in Europe, with regular touring, for example? The potential is surely there.
Well, we are keeping our expectations modest right now, of course we could like to be able to support ourselves and our families by playing death metal, but realistically it's not something that we can count on. But we're definitely aiming to do some touring and playing festivals, then we just have to see what options we have. Worst case scenario, we keep our day jobs and keep writing and releasing music that we like. I could think of worse things.

7. Speaking of former bands, dude, Sororicide. I remember having a Sororicide tape back in the day, and I just realized you played for them after I left Iceland. I suppose yet another reunion with that band is out of the question?
I used to say that Sororicide would never play another gig again and I was proven wrong. Granted, it took us 15 years from when we called it quits until we played those four gigs in 2009 and 2010, but I don't think it's very likely. Maybe in another 15 years, who knows.

8. Yet another of your former bands, Drep, had a release, and a song on that release, called 'Plunger'. It is necessary that you share the complex concept behind this title with us now.
To be absolutely honest, to this day I have absolutely no idea what that song is about. I did some backing vocals in the chorus, but that was only the word plunger repeated over and over again. It was a good song though.
[any song called 'Plunger' would be, honestly.]

9. Managed to get that Ghost CD out of your car stereo yet? If so, what’s been spinning there lately?
No, the Ghost CD is still stuck there, but now it's because it's our six year old's new favourite band! I'm not complaining mind you, but now and then I can sneak in something more extreme such as Belphegor, 1349 or Behemoth, or when we're looking for something more laid back Enslaved or The Devil's Blood for instance. But Ghost rules supreme in my car stereo these days.
[I want a six year old like that.]

10. Last question is list question – list ten albums that had the most importance to you while you were growing up, musically speaking at least. Basically, the albums that made you a metalhead, and made you want to be a musician.
Now, this is probably the toughest question. Just 10? Ok, here goes, not in any particular order though. I'm probably forgetting some albums, but these are the ones that stick out in my memory at least.

Iron Maiden - Somewhere in Time
Slayer - Reign In Blood
Motörhead - Rock 'n' Roll
Metallica - Master Of Puppets
Megadeth - Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?
Judas Priest - Priest Live
Kreator - Extreme Aggression
Death - Leprosy
Morbid Angel - Altars Of Madness
Sepultura - Beneath The Remains

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

from Lee County, Iowa

The first time I ever heard of the name William Elliott Whitmore was while doing one of my favourite activities, which is wandering aimlessly through a record store, idly looking around until something catches my attention. There was a small listening station sort of hidden behind one of the shelves with a new record that had just came out up for listening. The carefully arranged and rather creepy animal skeleton and skull on the cover and the fact that it was called 'Hymns For The Hopeless' intrigued me. I'm not one usually to slap on store headphones and listen to something, but this was 2003 and although that age had started already, we still weren't quite able to download every song in existence off our phones or whatever, so I did it, piqued by the curiosity about this strangely dark-looking album. As soon as William's voice came out of those headphones, singing 'Cold And Dead' (and those titles!) entirely a capella, I wasn't in the record store anymore. I was transported out of the city, out of 2003, very nearly out of myself by this old man with the deep voice. Who was he? Why hadn't I heard of him before? I skipped to the second song, 'Sometimes Our Dreams Float Like Anchors', just to check if all the album was a capella, and as the banjo cut through my heart, I just put the headphones down, grabbed a copy of the record from the shelf, went to the counter with it and rushed home. There was something special here, something that didn't deserve being listened to in a store.

So that was eight years ago. Those songs have since become such an integral part of me that I can be, I don't know, reading a book and listening to them and singing them to myself at the same time without even noticing it. 'Burn My Body', as I've mentioned before, is the song I'd like people who liked me to sing when I die, preferably while doing the exact same thing the song suggests. William, though I've never met him, is the sort of artist that has become a part of my daily life too. With my friends and family, who have all been ordered to discover him, of course, he's mentioned as if he's some guy I know down the pub. You might imagine my surprise when I eventually found out, a couple of days after buying that first album, and no thanks to its wonderfully minimalist black booklet, that William was actually a tattoed, bearded dude, active member of the DIY punk/hardcore community, and also that he was born on the same year as me, despite that hundred-year-old voice. An honest voice. It's the voice of an old soul, a gravely, tired yet hopeful voice, the voice of a hard working man who nevertheless recognizes the poetry of daily life.  The sort of man who, to promote a new album, goes for a chat with his grandma about the farm where his family has lived, and where he lives now too. Those songs on 'Hymns For The Hopeless' turned out to not be entirely hopeless. Bleak, yes, fully aware of the constant presence of death in our lives, yes. But not hopeless. Even the raw gospel-like closer 'Our Paths Will Cross Again' (Will has a knack for the particularly touching last song - 'Porchlight', 'A Good Day To Die', 'Not Feeling Any Pain'), where everyone is dead - father, mother, lover - is strangely uplifting, almost hopeful that death isn't really the final end to all this.

His career has been a wonder to follow as well. He has been productive, with a few bits and pieces always being done besides the albums, like a couple of Daytrotter sessions, a Latitudes session, a collaboration album with Jenny Hoyston of Erase Errata, even a song for the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack. 'Field Songs', the new album which motivated this post, maintains the healthy, uncluttered, simple approach to songs William has kept during the other four albums. Where other artists vaguely within this ballpark like Eric Bachmann with Crooked Fingers or even Sam Beam with Iron & Wine, tend to feel the need to start expanding their instrumentation and their arrangements, moving gradually away from the rawer and very frequently more fascinating beginnings, William has kept it mostly to voice, banjo and guitar, with the occasional friend helping out with a discreet appearance of a required instrument, but mostly keeping to just writing great songs with what the means he's always had. Even on the album that might have been his "maturing" effort, 2008's 'Animals In The Dark', while it does stray a little bit thematically from his norm, showing a more global world view and political comment (through the eyes of the man of the country still, however), musically it's not that big of a stretch. The evolution throughout the albums has been kept to songs just getting better and better. When you can pen a tune like the deeply, harrowingly touching 'Everything Gets Gone' from the new album, that's all you really need. "But I'm just here for a little while," he sings on that song. We all are, in a way, but let's hope we all hang on for a little more still. There's still more fields to be plowed, stories to be told, and songs to be sung.